Leading up to the conference, Russian President Vladimir Putinhas tried to forestall a new round of sanctions with gesturessuggesting de-escalation. But these have been just that - gesturesthat are relatively insignificant, easily reversible or both. Mr.Putin, for example, had the Russian parliament rescind itsauthorization to send troops into Ukraine, a measure it can easilyand quickly reinstate if the Kremlin decides it needs anyauthorization later.
Meanwhile, Russia's behavior remains unacceptably provocative.Russia continues to occupy Ukrainian territory in Crimea, it hasnot applied its influence to end the uprising it sponsored ineastern Ukraine and it continues to deploy forces to Ukraine'sborder. Ukraine's new president, Petro Poroshenko, reported that at least18 Ukrainian soldiers have died this week, despite hisdeclaration of a cease-fire. On Tuesday pro-Russia separatists shotdown a Ukrainian helicopter, killing nine on board. According toSecretary of State John F. Kerry, the weapon used in the attack was Russian.
On Thursday Mr. Kerry declared that "it is critical for Russia to show in the nexthours, literally, that they're moving to help disarm theseparatists, to encourage them to disarm, to call on them to laydown their weapons and to begin to become part of a legitimateprocess." These are clear and appropriate "red lines." The problemis that Mr. Putin already has crossed such lines, and too often theconsequences have been weak or nonexistent.
Unfortunately, the signals from Western leaders heading intoFriday's meeting were hazy. European leaders have been the mosthesitant, because their economic ties to Russia are thicker, butU.S. business leaders, too, have been lobbying in acounterproductive fashion.
The West's political leaders have to put principle above thespecial pleading. Ukraine lived peaceably as a sovereign statesince becoming independent in 1991; the rebellion in the east ismanufactured by Russia to undermine Ukraine's sovereignty. TheUnited States and Britain guaranteed support for that sovereigntyin 1994 when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. Now Ukraine'sgovernment has offered generous terms to the rebels in the east.Mr. Poroshenko has promised and pushed forward reforms that wouldgive the region more autonomy and protect the use of the Russianlanguage. Though he has every right to secure his country's bordersand combat a radical insurgency within Ukraine, Mr. Poroshenkounilaterally established a cease-fire and offered amnesty toseparatists.
If Russia continues to support rebels who reject these terms,the West must ramp up its support for the Ukrainian government. TheUnited States is right to work for allied unity on sanctions. Butthe quest for unity cannot become an excuse for inaction. In thecoming days - or even the coming "hours" - if Mr. Putin does notback down and Europe shrinks from acting, the United States musttake the lead and then pull allies in the right direction.
Editorial Board, The Washington Post